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Fort Fairfield gears up for Blossom Festival

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — As potato plants start flowering, the town of Fort Fairfield is ready for the annual Maine Potato Blossom Festival starting Saturday, July 14.

The 71st annual Maine Potato Blossom Festival runs for 9 days and features dozens of events that celebrate Fort Fairfield and Aroostook County with food, games, music, parades, pageants, high school reunions and more.

Last year, an estimated 35,000 people visited the Maine Potato Blossom Festival. This year, the event’s new director, Meg Hegemann, is continuing the tradition with a strong-base of volunteers and also bringing some new ideas.  

“It’s a lot for a small community to put on. It’s a struggle, but it’s very much worth doing,” Hegemann said. “We have a lot of return volunteers and a lot of the events are put on by local community groups. They know the system and they’ve got it down. That frees me up to focus on newer events and activities.”

Among the new additions this year are comedians for kids and adults (both family friendly), a sip and paint event organized by the Wintergreen Arts Center, and an evening of live music by local and regional artists Jacob Graham, Travis Cyr, and Putnam Smith and Ashley Storrow.

“We’re looking forward to a low-key Sunday afternoon,” Hegemann said of the festival’s last day, Sunday July 22. “Get a drink in the beer garden, listen to some good music and watch the fireworks.”

Another new addition aims to pay homage to the history of potato picking while getting festival goers to visit a broader array of events — pickers tickets.

“When we were picking potatoes by hand, the way we got paid at the end of the day was sticking a ticket on the top of the barrel you filled,” Hegemann said. “Instead of picking potatoes to fill a barrel, you pick an event. For $5 you get 20 tickets and you can go to 20 different events and get them stamped. When you bring them back in, we’ll pay you with a chocolate coin and you can enter to win a prize drawing as well.”

Most of the festival’s events are free, with the exception of pageants, some athletic events and fundraisers. The picker’s tickets are a way to help raise money for the event while also getting people to “experience more of the festival,” she said.

Hegemann grew up on a family farm in Fort Fairfield and returned in 2016 after 20 years working elsewhere in the state and country, including in disaster relief with the American Red Cross in Missouri and in ministry with the United Methodist Church.

“My folks are in their 80s and I thought, if I’m going to get back home, this is the time to do it.”

Growing up, the Potato Blossom Festival was always a high point of summer, she said.

“When I was a kid, it was the thing to do in town. As I recall, it was a smaller two day kind of thing. We all came down for the street dance and it was a small enough community that your parents could kind of let you have a bit of freedom as a pre-teen.”  

Hegemann said she is working to make the festival representative of its roots in agriculture and also gather input from community members for additions to festivals in years to come.

“I’m trying to get a sense of what people would enjoy for next year.”

The Maine Potato Blossom Festival kicks off Saturday, July 14, with the town-wide yard sale and chess and horseshoe tournaments. Sunday’s events include breakfast at the Fort Fairfield Snowmobile Club and hymnal songs at the historic Quaker Friends Church.

Other events through the week include fiddle music at the bandstand, a potato picking contest, an inflatable adventure park, and karaoke at the beer garden.

Saturday features a military veterans tribute at 10 a.m., the festival parade at 1:15 p.m., and the potato queen pageant at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday’s events start with the Spud Cycle bike race, a group kayak and canoe ride on the Aroostook River, and music and fireworks in the evening.
For a full list of Maine Potato Blossom Festival activities visit http://www.fortfairfield.org/festival.html.

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